Book Review: In Real Life (Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Square Fish

Pages: 175

Release Date: February 13th 2018

Summary:

Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing.

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer–a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake.

Review:

This is an interesting short read with gorgeous art and a well-intentioned message – I just think it tried to cover too much in a short space.

After a school visit from one of the organisers of Coarsegold Online, Anda starts playing the game with a group of female gamers. I enjoyed this aspect of the story: it touched on sexism and misogyny in gaming and Coarsegold offered a safe and welcoming space for female gamers. This was really interesting and was great for Anda’s character development.

We then get to the point of the story: Anda meets Raymond, a gold farmer in the game, who’s an overworked teenager in China in real life. Gold farmers in games are often from third world countries and they collect in-game items and valuable objects to sell to other players for real life money. Anda’s friends in the game point out how that’s not in the spirit of the game and they start targeting groups of gold farmers. However, when Anda speaks Raymond, she sees the terrible predicament he’s in: he needs this job to survive, not in the game but in real life.

Anda then decides she has to help him in some way. She tells Raymond that he and his friends should demand healthcare from their employer, which of course leads to him getting fired. Anda spreads a message among the other gold farmers to try and find Raymond, who turns up at the end and says he’s got a better a job now. And that’s basically it.

Everything felt a bit simplified when this is a complex issue. While I know there were good intentions there, I just don’t think it all came across well. Anda’s help came across more as some kind of white saviour complex and it only made matters worse for Raymond: nothing she did really helped him, though I see how she was changed for the better by meeting him and gaining some understanding of another country and culture.

On the plus side, there was a positive message about female gaming and feeling comfortable with yourself, and the art by Jen Wang is just fantastic. I think this book was too short to really explore all the issues it wanted to and it just wasn’t for me.

Book Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker (Jen Wang)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: First Second

Pages: 288

Release Date: February 13th 2018

Summary:

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

Review:

This was a really lovely, modern fairy tale with beautiful art and a great message about being yourself and accepting others.

Sebastian is a prince by day and Lady Crystallia by night. Frances is his new dressmaker who longs for her talent to be recognised, but this can’t happen while Sebastian’s passion for dresses stays secret.

This was a really cute story with important undertones. I loved the fun the two had designing dresses together, going to parties and just generally bonding. It was great to see a story that breaks gender norms and shows another side of life. In this book, clothes don’t have a gender, dresses aren’t just for girls and society has to learn to accept that. Sebastian loves getting dressed up and that’s all there is to it: no big deal.

The friendship that bloomed between Sebastian and Frances was really sweet and it was great to see their relationship grow and strain under the weight of their secrets. By the end of the book, you’re hoping they’ll sort out their differences and get together, and that society/Sebastian’s father will get over any issues they have with a prince wearing dresses.

The artwork is really stunning and I loved seeing Frances’ new creations and Sebastian transform as he wore them. The colour scheme is really beautiful and the character’s faces are so expressive you always know exactly what they’re thinking.

This a beautiful book with a fun story and great message that I hope a lot of people will read.

4

Book Review: Purple Hearts (Michael Grant)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 480

Release Date: February 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

It’s 1944, and it feels to everyone like the war will never end. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr and Rainiy Shulterman have all received accolades, been ‘heroes’, earned promotion – in short, they’ve all done ‘enough’ to allow them to leave this nightmare and go home. But they don’t.

D-Day, June 6th 1944. On that day, many still doubted the American soldier.

By June 7th no one did.

Review:

It doesn’t feel like long ago that I was first introduced to this series, and now I’ve read the final one. It’s been emotional!

Rainy, Rio and Frangie are all decorated war heroes now, but their battle is still raging on. Rainy is keen to see the war to an end after her torture in Italy, Rio is good at being a soldier and doesn’t know what she’d do if she went home, and Frangie wants to keep healing and helping her fellow soldiers.

All three girls are unrecognisable from the ones we started with, and I love that. Something like this really affects you as a person and it’s interesting to see how it’s affected each girl differently. To me, Rio changes the most: in this book she is so far from the sweet girl who left to fight a war that it starts to affect her realtionships. The tensions between her and Strand that started in the last book are ever present it was fascinating to see how that went down.

Frangie’s parts were the ones where I really felt the horror of the war. The things she treated, the wounds she saw, it all hammered home how truly horrific war is. She had another tough time in this book, with a moment that brought tears to my eyes.

Rainy’s position as a Jew in Nazi-occupied lands is really interesting, especially as she starts to embrace her heritage more. As the war comes to a close and the awful concentration camps are revealed, you can really feel the personal connection Rainy has to them and how awful it is to see her people persecuted like that. It’s even more terrible reading some of the events and knowing how true to real life they are.

On a lighter note, we finally have the mysterious narrator revealed! This was a big moment for me, and it didn’t disappoint. There a few hints throughout which I picked up on so it wasn’t a complete surprise, but it felt very fitting.

I liked that the book didn’t just end when the war did, and we got to see a bit of the character’s lives afterward. There’s a great bit at the end with obituaries for the soldiers who die later of old age, so we get a little snippet of what they did after the war.

I’ve really loved this series and I’m sad it’s ended now. It’s such a simple idea, wondering what would happen if women fought in WWII, but it’s made for an exciting and fascinating trilogy which I’d really recommend you read.

4

Book Review: Goodbye, Perfect (Sara Barnard)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Pages: 384

Release Date: February 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

When I was wild, you were steady . . .
Now you are wild – what am I? 

Eden McKinley knows she can’t count on much in this world, but she can depend on Bonnie, her solid, steady, straight-A best friend. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Bonnie runs away with the boyfriend Eden knows nothing about five days before the start of their GCSEs. Especially when the police arrive on her doorstep and Eden finds out that the boyfriend is actually their music teacher, Mr Cohn.

Sworn to secrecy and bound by loyalty, only Eden knows Bonnie’s location, and that’s the way it has to stay. There’s no way she’s betraying her best friend. Not even when she’s faced with police questioning, suspicious parents and her own growing doubts.

As the days pass and things begin to unravel, Eden is forced to question everything she thought she knew about the world, her best friend and herself.

Review:

I do love Sara Barnard’s ability to create complex, compelling and realistic characters. She really is the queen of contemporary YA right now! I’ve loved her previous books and this one was no exception!

When Eden’s steady, dependable best friend Bonnie runs away with a teacher, Eden is left to pick up the pieces. Secretly in touch with Bonnie, Eden has to decide whether her friend really is as happy as she says she is, or if she should tell the police where the runaways are hiding.

This was such a fascinating read and I loved that it was from Eden’s point of view rather than Bonnie’s. If it had been Bonnie’s, it would have been similar to Me & Mr. J, which is a fantastic book but I don’t want to read a rehashing of that. Having it as Eden’s point of view gave a whole different message and feeling.

Bonnie drove me nuts in this. I definitely have a different perspective on this, being an adult rather than a teen, but I just thought what she did was really selfish. I’m not exactly blaming her, as she was obviously groomed by her teacher, but I felt it was really unfair to put pressure on Eden to keep her whereabouts a secret. While I understood Eden’s need to be loyal to Bonnie, I did want to scream at her that she wasn’t helping by keeping her secret.

I love that this is another book that focuses on family and friendship rather than teen romance. Sure, Eden has a boyfriend and they have some great moments together, but it isn’t about them. It’s refreshing to see a YA book where someone’s in a stable relationship and nothing goes wrong! I felt the book tried to steer clear of the usual tropes like this: it was also great to see sisters who are adopted and happy in their adoptive family.

My favourite parts were the ones with Valerie, Eden’s adoptive older sister who she’s struggled to bond with. While we see Valerie through Eden’s eyes – smart, perfect, dull – it’s easy to see why they haven’t got on, but as the book goes on it’s clear there’s more to Valerie than Eden’s first assessment. I loved their arguments as well as their bonding and I think Valerie was just an overall amazing character to read.

This is a powerful, emotional read which tackles some difficult topics really well. I thought it got the message right while being true to the teenage characters and not be being patronising. It’s another hit from Sara Barnard and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

4